The Year of the Tiger

By Rich LernerDecember 28, 2000, 5:00 pm
How many times?
How many ways?
Did he defy logic?
He delivered arguably the greatest season in history, not simply for the significance of what he won, but how he did it.
In mind-boggling runaways. In the cradle of history. In blow-for-blow, must-make pressure cookers.
In the company of legends at Arnie's Bay Hill and Jack's Memorial. In the dark in Akron. Over the water in Canada. Along the coast at Pebble. On top of the world at Kapalua.
He seemed to do it all. None of it in ordinary fashion.
It's difficult to determine the most monumental of all his achievements. Is it the completion of six in a row? At the time, chroniclers of the game had that rated as one of the top five accomplishments of all time.
Tiger entered 2000 with four straight victories. Number five announced that the New Year would be extraordinary. Woods against Els looked like Ali and Frazier, McGwire against Sosa. Woods snaked a long, winding putt in overtime for the victory, thrusting his fist into the air and jump-starting the season with a rocket booster.
The AT&T at Pebble Beach, nearly a month later, was no less dramatic. Seven shots back with eight to play, Woods charged home with a 64, highlighted by a slam-dunk at the 15th.
The streak moved to six in a row, and with observers now believing that Byron's 11 straight, once thought to be untouchable, was not out of reach for the miracle worker, excitement grew.
On to San Diego. The Tiger universe expanding. Tiger talk incessant. Tiger fatigue setting in.
Phil Mickelson was asked, 'If you play your best and Tiger plays his best, are you playing for second?' Mickelson bristled and respectfully declined to answer. Then, in a harbinger of what he would ultimately put together in a strong year of his own, Mickelson held off Tiger.
Tiger appeared weary, fighting his swing, but he proved in defeat that even when not at his best, he would have to be dealt with.
The streak was over at six, but left everyone buzzing. What was on the horizon, though, would eclipse even his run at Nelson's mark.
After Darren Clarke clipped Tiger in a convincing decision in the Match Play final, Tiger, in his next start, re-established his dominance. Even before the weekend at Bay Hill, Colin Montgomerie, to the dismay of some of his peers, but underscoring the prevailing sentiment of fans, basically conceded the victory to Tiger. Still, the air of invincibility was at least challenged the following week when Hal Sutton talked the talk and then walked the walk at the Players Championship.
So, it looked for a moment as if Tiger's peers were answering his challenge. That lasted through the Masters, where a double and a triple bogey would ultimately separate him from the Grand Slam at season's end.

But all along, Tiger had been pointing to Pebble Beach, the millennium U.S. Open in his native California. A watershed year on the calendar would be a watershed moment for the young legend. It was here that - from a pure playing standpoint - Tiger Woods turned in perhaps the greatest single performance in major championship history. Here, where he established the vastness of the chasm separating himself from every other player in the world. Here, where he turned over records that went back to 1862 and Old Tom Morris.
Tiger Woods won the U.S. Open by 15 shots! NBA games are won by 15, not major championships.
Could it possibly get any better? No one would rule anything out now. For no matter how high the bar was set, in each case, Tiger cleared it with ease.
If his tour de force at the U.S. Open remains the most astonishing single feat of all his exploits, St. Andrews, the birthplace of golf, for the British Open, was the more fitting site for the coronation. It represented a two-major sweep at two of golf's most hallowed shrines - Pebble and St. Andrews. Here, Tiger's victory seemed pre-ordained, with little doubt in anyone's mind that the Old Course presented little which could slow down Woods.

For four days, Woods hit not one single bunker, and there are plenty of them. His victory made him the youngest ever to win the career Grand Slam. It left nothing to conjecture. Woods officially joined the pantheon of the greatest legends in golf history - at age 24. And he wasn't finished yet. Not by a long shot. What followed the British Open was a punctuation mark delivered with a sledgehammer.
The PGA dawned at Valhalla with the Best Ever (debatedly so) running rampant. Was this season, with the 15-shot U.S. Open triumph followed by the British Open, the greatest of all time? Who's the best ever, Woods or Nicklaus?
The two were paired for the first two rounds, after which the never-easily-impressed 20-time major champion gushed over the successor to his throne.
The start of PGA Championship week also brought to the fore the debate - Is Tiger's domination good or bad for the game?
In each of the previous two majors, Tiger had squeezed the life out of seemingly helpless fields of the rest of the best players in the world. He began to diminish the stature of nearly every one he left in his wake. And while everyone was electrified by what they had seen Woods do, the consensus at Valhalla was that everyone wanted at least a good fight.
No one knew it would be Bob May who would draw Woods to the center of the ring for one of the most thrilling Sundays in major championship history. That day also left an image that will always be replayed, a defining picture of a man in control of his destiny, a man whose golf ball seemed to always succumb to his unbending will. You will do as I say, go where I decree, Woods seemed to bark at his golf ball. And in they went.
From there Woods would have been excused had he exhaled and called it a year. He had matched Hogan's Triple Crown feat of 1953. Valhalla was exhilarating and should have been exhausting for Tiger. But what happened the very next week at esteemed Firestone and the NEC World Golf Championship event put his already sublime season into surreal context.
When a stormy, stop-and-go Sunday came to a close, daylight had vanished, and Woods had shattered yet another record at another highly respected venue.
His feel apparently so good that he could play in the dark.
Like the visually impaired musical maestro, Tiger seemed to have senses and instincts beyond the norm. In fact, his ball dropping from the ominous sky to a foot was darn near paranormal.
Three weeks later, rested, Woods returned for another interesting crack at history. Only Lee Trevino in the same season had won the U.S., British and Canadian Opens. Tiger's bid for the three-nation triple came down to one daring, magnificent blow, the 6-iron from the bunker, 213 yards over water - the shot many peers called the best of the year, the shot everyone understood only he could make.
At the President's Cup, Tiger answered Vijay's question in Sunday singles. Interestingly and appropriately, Tiger mania seems to ebb only at the team events where he doesn't have to be the focal point.
Bids to become the first in 50 years to win 10 in a season fell just short at Disney, The Tour Championship and at Valderrama, three tournaments he swept a year ago.
Undaunted, Woods marched onward in a year-end run around the globe, winning the Johnnie Walker in his mother's native Thailand, the PGA Grand Slam of Golf in Hawaii with an eagle-eagle finish, and finally the World Cup alongside David Duval in Argentina.
Obviously, the impact of this season will be felt for years. Woods even made overtures that the implications of his impact will need to be addressed.
But Tiger's year won't be remembered for that late-season brushfire, nor so much for his statistical assault on the record books. No, this year will be recalled for the breadth of his accomplishment and for the sheer thrill at having witnessed all of the mind-boggling moments he engineered. In the end, he left us with but one question.
Can he top it in 2001?
What do you think of Tiger's chances in 2001?
Can he top 2000? Share your thoughts!

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Johnson begins Open week as 12/1 betting favorite

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 5:15 pm

Dustin Johnson heads into The Open as the top-ranked player in the world, and he's also an understandable betting favorite as he looks to win a second career major.

Johnson has not played since the U.S. Open, where he led by four shots at the halfway point and eventually finished third. He has three top-10 finishes in nine Open appearances, notably a T-2 finish at Royal St. George's in 2011.

Johnson opened as a 12/1 favorite when the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook first published odds for Carnoustie after the U.S. Open, and he remains at that number with the first round just three days away.

Here's a look at the latest odds on some of the other top contenders, according to the Westgate:

12/1: Dustin Johnson

16/1: Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose

20/1: Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood, Brooks Koepka, Jon Rahm

25/1: Jason Day, Henrik Stenson, Tiger Woods

30/1: Sergio Garcia, Francesco Molinari, Paul Casey, Alex Noren, Patrick Reed

40/1: Hideki Matsuyama, Marc Leishman, Branden Grace, Tyrrell Hatton

50/1: Phil Mickelson, Ian Poulter, Matthew Fitzpatrick

60/1: Russell Knox, Louis Oosthuizen, Matt Kuchar, Bryson DeChambeau, Zach Johnson, Tony Finau, Bubba Watson

80/1: Lee Westwood, Adam Scott, Patrick Cantlay, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Thomas Pieters, Xander Schauffele

100/1: Shane Lowry, Webb Simpson, Brandt Snedeker, Ryan Fox, Thorbjorn Olesen

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Woods needs top-10 at Open to qualify for WGC

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 4:34 pm

If Tiger Woods is going to qualify for the final WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club, he'll need to do something he hasn't done in five years this week at The Open.

Woods has won eight times at Firestone, including his most recent PGA Tour victory in 2013, and has openly stated that he would like to qualify for the no-cut event in Akron before it shifts to Memphis next year. But in order to do so, Woods will need to move into the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking after this week's event at Carnoustie.

Woods is currently ranked No. 71 in the world, down two spots from last week, and based on projections it means that he'll need to finish no worse than a tie for eighth to have a chance of cracking the top 50. Woods' last top-10 finish at a major came at the 2013 Open at Muirfield, where he tied for sixth.

Updated Official World Golf Ranking

There are actually two OWGR cutoffs for the Bridgestone, July 23 and July 30. That means that Woods could theoretically still add a start at next week's RBC Canadian Open to chase a spot in the top 50, but he has said on multiple occasions that this week will be his last start of the month. The WGC-Bridgestone Invitational will be played Aug. 2-5.

There wasn't much movement in the world rankings last week, with the top 10 staying the same heading into the season's third major. Dustin Johnson remains world No. 1, followed by Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm. Defending Open champ Jordan Spieth is ranked sixth, with Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Tommy Fleetwood rounding out the top 10.

Despite taking the week off, Sweden's Alex Noren moved up three spots from No. 14 to No. 11, passing Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson and Paul Casey.

John Deere Classic champ Michael Kim went from No. 473 to No. 215 in the latest rankings, while South African Brandon Stone jumped from 371st to 110th with his win at the Scottish Open.

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Spieth takes familiar break ahead of Open defense

By Rex HoggardJuly 16, 2018, 3:50 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – As his title chances seemed to be slipping away during the final round of last year’s Open Championship, Jordan Spieth’s caddie took a moment to remind him who he was.

Following a bogey at No. 13, Michael Greller referenced a recent vacation he’d taken to Mexico where he’d spent time with Michael Phelps and Michael Jordan and why he deserved to be among that group of singular athletes.

Spieth, who won last year’s Open, decided to continue the tradition, spending time in Cabo again before this week’s championship.

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I kind of went through the same schedule,” Spieth said on Monday at Carnoustie. “It was nice to have a little vacation.”

Spieth hasn’t played since the Travelers Championship; instead he attended the Special Olympics USA Games earlier this month in Seattle with his sister. It was Spieth’s first time back to the Pacific Northwest since he won the 2015 U.S. Open.

“I went out to Chambers Bay with [Greller],” Spieth said. “We kind of walked down the 18th hole. It was cool reliving those memories.”

But most of all Spieth said he needed a break after a particularly tough season.

“I had the itch to get back to it after a couple weeks of not really working,” he said. “It was nice to kind of have that itch to get back.”

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Harrington: Fiery Carnoustie evokes Hoylake in '06

By Ryan LavnerJuly 16, 2018, 3:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – One course came to mind when Padraig Harrington arrived on property and saw a firm, fast and yellow Carnoustie.

Hoylake in 2006.

That's when Tiger Woods avoided every bunker, bludgeoned the links with mid-irons and captured the last of his three Open titles.

So Harrington was asked: Given the similarity in firmness between Carnoustie and Hoylake, can Tiger stir the ghosts this week?

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I really don’t know,” Harrington said Monday. “He’s good enough to win this championship, no doubt about it. I don’t think he could play golf like the way he did in 2006. Nobody else could have tried to play the golf course the way he did, and nobody else could have played the way he did. I suspect he couldn’t play that way now, either. But I don’t know if that’s the strategy this week, to lay up that far back.”

With three days until the start of this championship, that’s the biggest question mark for Harrington, the 2007 winner here. He doesn’t know what his strategy will be – but his game plan will need to be “fluid.” Do you attack the course with driver and try to fly the fairway bunkers? Or do you attempt to lay back with an iron, even though it’s difficult to control the amount of run-out on the baked-out fairways and bring the bunkers into play?

“The fairways at Hoylake are quite flat, even though they were very fast,” Harrington said. “There’s a lot of undulations in the fairways here, so if you are trying to lay up, you can get hit the back of a slope and kick forward an extra 20 or 30 yards more than you think. So it’s not as easy to eliminate all the risk by laying up.”